Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Game Warden Dave Jones says he was just as shocked by reports of a dead grizzly bear on a Whatcom County beach last week as anyone else. In fact, he was so surprised, he went out to the beach just north of the Cherry Point Refinery to check it out for himself.
"That absolutely was 100% a grizzly bear," Jones told The Bellingham Herald.
While black bear sightings are common in rural portions of the county, Jones said seeing a confirmed grizzly was, "crazy — I've never seen one around here before. I've never heard of one being seen around here before."
Jones said he took a sample from the carcass of the 1- to 2-year-old male bear to send in to have it analyzed to determine exactly where the bear may have come from, but said that could take "some time" to get an answer from federal agencies doing the lab work. Jones also took the bear's head and claws to give to the department's local biologist.
The bear had no bullet holes or any other obvious sings of trauma, Jones said, other than what scavengers had done to the carcass. He added that he had no idea how the carcass ended up on a Whatcom County beach.
Grizzlies, which are federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act and classified as an endangered species in Washington state, once occupied much of the Cascade Mountains and eastern Washington, according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Periodic Status Review for the Grizzly Bear in Washington from 2019. They are currently known to live in the Selkirk Mountain Range in the northeast corner of the state, but are not currently known to be in the North Cascades ecosystem.
And certainly not anywhere near the Whatcom County beach where this bear was located.
"It's a mystery, it really is," Jones said. "It's really strange."
While Jones awaits test results from the sample he took, he is hypothesizing the grizzly may have come from Canada.
There were approximately 15,000 grizzly bears estimated to be in British Columbia, according to the 2018 British Columbia Bear Population Estimate, though no bears were known to Vancouver Island and densities of only one to 10 bears per square 1,000 kilometers were known to be in the bear population units in the southeast corner of mainland B.C.